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Monday, November 15, 2010

Autism, Special Ed, and the Santa Clarita Valley

The biggest growth in special-needs students in the Santa Clarita Valley and statewide has been among those diagnosed with autism.

In December 2009, the valley had 758 students with autism, a big jump from the 214 students with autism in 2002, according to figures from the Santa Clarita Valley Special Education Local Plan Area.

Many factors contribute to the growth in special-needs students, said Margaret Cherene, director of the SCV Special Education Local Plan Area, which manages the five local school districts’ special-education programs.

“The medical profession is doing more and more to save babies who would not have survived 30 years ago,” Cherene said.

In addition, parents are generally more aware and involved in their students’ learning than were parents decades ago, she said.

“When they see a child who is struggling in school, they want to find out why,” Cherene said.

But the rapid growth in the number of Santa Clarita Valley students with special needs may be attributable to another factor, as well.

Santa Clarita Valley schools’ strong reputation for academic excellence means that families with special-needs students may be moving here specifically to enroll their students in local schools.

“Parents do move here because we have a wonderful reputation,” Cherene said, adding that the closeness of high-profile research institutes like UCLA makes the valley especially attractive.

“They just want their child to be the best child that they could be,” said Joyce Johnston, director of student-support services for the Saugus Union School District.